This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," January 21, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: And in coming days, the Iraqi people will have their chance to go to the polls to begin the process of creating a democratic government that will answer to the people instead of to a thug and a tyrant.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: And by the looks of it, a whole lot of Iraqis are going to do just that. A survey finding that over 80 percent of Iraqis (search) are planning to vote on the 30th of January, with nearly 50 percent saying the country is already headed in the right direction.

I'm joined now by Lorne Craner, president of the International Republican Institute (search), the organization behind this survey. Today's big question, Mr. Craner: are Iraqis more optimistic about this election than we think?

LORNE CRANER, PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL REPUBLICAN INSTITUTE: I think they are. About 50 percent, as you said, think their country's headed in the right direction.

I should mention we've been doing these polls since last spring. And the numbers on a lot of these issues are very, very consistent. If you also ask Iraqis, "Do they think their country's going be much better off in a year and five years?" 64 percent said in five years, their country's going to be much better off.

GIBSON: Now, polling is an interesting science. It's interesting enough here when you're polling people and nobody's shooting at you. How did you conduct polls in Iraq, considering the conditions there?

CRANER: Well, we polled 1900 people north and south and in Baghdad. There are two areas where we could not poll: Nineveh and Dohuk. We think the numbers would have been slightly lower had we been able to poll there, but not a whole lot lower.

And, again, those polling were Iraqis, they were not Americans. So, it was much easier to conduct it.

GIBSON: Now, the conventional wisdom about this election is that the Shi'a in the south are going to vote and the Kurds in the north are going to vote and the Sunnis in the middle are probably not going to vote because it's going be too dangerous. Does your number simply state that another way; that you add the Kurds to the Shi'a, you get 80 percent and the 20 percent of Sunnis aren't going to vote?

CRANER: No. What we found was the conventional wisdom was right on the Shiites: over 90 percent plan to vote. It was right on the Kurds: over 90 percent plan to vote. What really surprised us was the Sunni vote -- but again, this being consistent throughout the year -- 20 percent say they strongly intend to vote and another 30 percent say they very much intend to vote.

So according to these polls, you could see up to a 50 percent voter turnout in the Sunni areas. That's what gets you to 80 percent in Iraq.

GIBSON: OK. Now, why is it that you're finding such high numbers? What explains this, considering the dangers of going out and voting; the determination of the insurgency to kill Iraqis, to kill Iraqi police or Iraqi security people, Iraqi election workers, Iraqi voters?

CRANER: You're seeing what you see in places like Colombia and El Salvador and South Africa, which is even that in situations where there is violence, people want liberty. And people are willing to brave it.

Just a few months ago, we had a lot of people who were very worried about election day in Afghanistan: that the Taliban and Al Qaeda were going to turn out. When Afghans got up in the morning, they didn't know if that was true or not, but they still went to vote. And you saw long lines in Afghanistan.

Do not underestimate what the President was talking about yesterday, which is the idea of liberty. People want that, especially in a place that's been a dictatorship for decades.

GIBSON: So, is the other part of the conventional wisdom, do you think, also right, that by the time the voting is tallied up the Shi'a will have won it and the Shi'a will essentially control the government?

CRANER: The Shi'a will have won. It makes sense. In a democracy, the majority wins and the majority of the people in Iraq are Shi'a.

What I think you will find is that Iraqi Shi'a are not Iranian Shi'a. In fact, there's quite a bit of antipathy between the two for very historical reasons. And I think the Shi'a are going to be quite sensible. They're going to realize if they want Iraq to stay in one piece, they're going to work with the Kurds, but they're also going to have to work with the Sunnis.

GIBSON: What is this election going to look like? Would we recognize it? Already we don't recognize it as an election we would have. You don't have campaigning; the candidates are afraid; some candidates are on the ballot, but it amounts to a secret that they're actually running. Nobody knows they're on the ballot, won't know until they go there.

But is it going to look otherwise like an election we would recognize?

CRANER: I think it will. You actually do have some campaigning, not in terms of large rallies, except in the Shi'a south, but what you are going to see, like I said, is a lot of people who want to turn out to vote. This is an election, that in a logistical sense, you will recognize.

I would also emphasize to you, I have seen many first elections around the world in places like Nigeria, in Central America and elsewhere. First elections are never perfect.

The thing to remember is that this first election of 2005 in Iraq is not the last election. There will probably be at least two more elections this year. This first election is about Iraq's constitution and about setting up future elections. So whatever imperfections occur in this first election, and there will be some, they have plenty of time to work out the rest of this year.

GIBSON: Lorne Craner, President of the International Republican Institute, which has surveyed Iraqis and is predicting a big turnout for the election.

Mr. Craner, thanks very much.

CRANER: Thank you very much.

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